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Man Alive!: A Novel Hardcover – September 3, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Owen Lerner, on his annual beach vacation with his wife, twin sons, and teenage daughter, is feeding quarters into a parking meter when he is struck by lightning (“He is white-hot as well as deeply quenched by the singed, syrupy fluid of his surround”). The randomness of the event and the sudden glimpse of mortality throw the Lerner family into a tizzy, and their lovely, sheltered life is suddenly cracked wide open. Will and Ricky, college juniors, are completely waylaid, with Will addicted to pills and casual sex, while Ricky is enmeshed in an unhealthy relationship with his professor and her husband. Meanwhile, younger sister Brooke becomes involved with an abusive boyfriend, and their mother, Toni, feels as if the husband she knows and loves has disappeared, as Owen, once a respected child psychiatrist, becomes obsessed with all things barbecue. Zuravleff (The Bowl Is Already Broken, 2005) is an exuberant writer with a sharp sense of humor, and if Owen’s recovery is a bit too protracted, her satiric jabs (at Whole Foods, among other targets) and joyful wordplay offer plenty to savor. --Joanne Wilkinson


“Above all, this is a family novel for smart people; the smarter you are, the better you’ll like "Man Alive!" by Washington writer Mary Kay Zuravleff . . . What makes this book so terrific? Certainly the lofty reach of its subject matter and its cleverly delivered information about mythology, robotics, etc. But mostly, it’s Zuravleff’s masterful use of language, particularly dialogue. Each character cries out to us, demanding attention, recognition. A whole family, not just the burned, bruised Dr. Lerner, demands to be seen as human beings — alive!”  —Carolyn See, The Washington Post

“A lightning bolt to a parking meter certainly packs a punch, but so does every sentence and scene of this exuberant novel. Mary Kay Zuravleff writes so well—with such wit and compassion and wry intelligence—that she can make the daily, domestic life that follows Owen Lerner’s encounter with the transcendent as electrifying as the lightning strike itself. A suburban marriage, a young romance, gymnastics, brain chemistry, backyard barbeque, wherever Zuravleff aims her keen eye, something transformative happens, the way a thunderbolt turns sand to glass. Man Alive! is vividly alive and breathing. A sparkling book.” —Alice McDermott, National Book Award-winning author of Charming Billy

“Random happens, as Mary Kay Zuravleff ably demonstrates in this witty and engaging novel about a psychiatrist struck by lightning. Man Alive! chronicles the tensions and resentments that pull a family apart in the wake of a freak accident, and the lingering affections and connections that ultimately keep them together.” —Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers and Little Children

“There's nothing like a lightning strike to make you reasses your life, as Owen Lerner and his wife and kids learn the up-close-and-personal way. Novelist Mary Kay Zuravleff dissects family life with great heart and rapier wit.” —Parade

“The scenes and dialogue jump off the pages of this novel. Man Alive! is electric.” —Huffington Post

“[Zuravleff] captures both the humor and pain of family life and the fluid nature of its alliances.” —Library Journal

“A compelling story, beautifully written, about a family faced with a crisis, given a strikingly original spin by a gifted novelist.” —Shelf Awareness

“Zuravleff (The Bowl Is Already Broken), recipient of the American Academy's Rosenthal Award and the James Jones First Novel Award, creates a family whose members are forced to come to terms with mortality, reality, love, and their place in the family structure. She captures both the humor and pain of family life and the fluid nature of its alliances. Highly recommended.” —Library Journal

Man Alive! is all pleasure, even as the Lerner family suffers acutely. Mary Kay Zuravleff’s novel delivers the particular pleasure of the thing perfectly described.  This is a book to share, reading sentences aloud to marvel at—how’d she come up with that!  How does she know so much! How can she be so funny, and then so poignant, one, two, punch. The Lerner family is a family to remember—and to raise a glass to every time you grill outdoors—cheers to the amazing and fabulous Owen Lerner, and to his creator.” —Jane Hamilton, author of A Map of the World

“I really like these people and I want to go to a barbecue at their house. This is a novel of equal parts wit and heart, edge and deep warmth, hands open with hope for humanity alongside a firm foot still in reality. A terrific treat.” —Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and An Invisible Sign

Man Alive! is a vibrant book, and complex, buzzing with the rhythm of life the way we live it. Mary Kay Zuravleff is masterful as she dissects the collective consciousness of a family, with all its tangled bonds and arbitrary isolation.” —Carolyn Parkhurst, author of The Dogs of Babel

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (September 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374202311
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374202316
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,028,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Alan A. Elsner VINE VOICE on December 22, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This absorbing novel begins when child pschychiatrist Owen and his family are packing up to go home after a summer at their beach home. This family seems to have everything - two successful professional parents, two bright sons at elite colleges and a 16 year-old, star gymnast daughter. Suddenly,Owen is struck by lightening and the whole facade is tested as never before.

Incidentally, the description of the lightening strike, and the writing throughout, is nothing less than superb. Owen has a near-death and transcendental experience. As he struggles to recover, mentally and physically,it is clear to him - and it becomes clear to the rest of the family, that he has deeply changed and will not be the same man ever again. This puts enormous pressure on his wife, Toni, and each of the kids. The author is immensely skilled in portraying the world through the eyes of all of her characters, each one in a convincing way.

Owen wants to recapture, somehow, the overwhelming feeling he experienced during the strike, which opened his eyes to a world beyond the mundane, everyday existence the family had grown used to. Toni wants her husband back, the kids are thrown off kilter by the loss of stability in the family.

Owen becomes obsessed by cooking meat and constructs his own BBQ pit in the backyard. He even buys a chicken coop and gets a weird tattoo. He's become weirdly selfish and irresponsible. The family is collapsing around him. Will thy pull together enough to survive? No, things are not going back to where they were - but can they find a new way to move forward?

I recommend this book fair its insights, its writing, wonderful characters and a moving exploration if what holds families together.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Tamar Walsh on November 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this book, Mary Kay Zuravleff reveals an intuitive understanding of the fragility of family relationships and the fundamental roles that we acquire and sometimes find difficult to change. A lightning fast shift in the family hierarchy sets off a domino effect and illustrates the lengths that one family must go through to break free of their established identities in order to take back control of their lives both within and outside the family.
I can't adequately express how much I loved reading this book. Mary Kay does not pass judgment or dwell in moral platitudes but cleverly demonstrates that there's a little dysfunction in everyone. Sometimes it takes a bolt of lightning to bring it out to the forefront but it's always there sizzling beneath the surface. We all have taken a step back at one time or another and recognized imperfections that were once imperceptible. Ultimately, this family had to find new ways to support each other and find its new center.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By miriam karp on January 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I will never think of electricity in the same way after reading this marvelous book by Mary Kay Zuravleff.

When Owen Lerner is hit by lightning, the circuitry of his family is altered in ways both horrible and hilarious. Searching to regain the enlightenment he believes he attained when all his body's electric impulses were momentarily surging in unison, Owen veers away from his profession of child psychologist into an all-consuming obsession with back yard grilling. His wife, their twin college-age sons, and high school daughter are all searching for the new normal and their own enlightenment in the wake of Owen's accident.

Zuravleff writes with such precision and compassion--zapping the reader with profound questions and insights into what makes us human as she tells the story of the Lerner family's struggle to figure out how to deal with the aftermath of this life-altering incident. There are laugh-out-loud lines as well as moments that bring tears, and metaphors so startling and so perfect that I wondered why no one had ever thought of them before. I found myself marveling at Zuravleff's wisdom--how can she know so much about how a family works? Every character is so completely brought to life and the complexity of the various family dynamics are movingly realized. She gets everything right about these people and still leaves all the mystery and wonder and confusion of them intact. In spite of their significant problems I wanted to be part of the Lerner family-- to share their verbal wit and goofiness, and their messy, fierce love for each other.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gordon G. Young on April 1, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Expecting to enjoy this novel a great deal, I enjoyed it even more.

As in Kafka's Metamorphosis, an impossible (or in this case improbable) event leads to and inflects all else.

One day, Owen -- a therapist, father, husband, friend of many -- is barbequed by a bolt from the sky and, by some sort of meteorological metonymy, becomes obsessed with barbequed meats and becomes, in other ways, a handful for his family. But, then, perhaps --netting out pluses and minuses -- he has also become a better person.

This is an extraordinarily funny book. At the same time, along the way, modern family themes develop, often in subtle, elliptical, but powerful ways. Among them: sibling and spousal jealously; the power that possessions have over us; the difficulty in deciding how keep children safe while giving them space.

And also along the way: portraits of people we care about and many terrific sentences. My favorite, roughly, "meeting the right cow, he bought half of her" continuing the barbeque theme. And also a sentence in which the distracted father, traumatized and perhaps even divinely selected, is described as losing his family in his "blind spot." That figure made me reassess my certainly that I approach 20/20 vision as to the lives of dear friends and family.

At one moment, there is a Citizen Kane-like revelation as to how the bolt from the blue produced this meaty metamorphosis. It was something that I had not expected and was dropped so softly as to be almost imperceptible.

A wonderful blend of so many things.
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